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I'm a junior developer at a tech company and have been working at my current company for around half a year.

It's becoming clear to me that I am not getting necessary negative feedback. For example, my boss will not tell me that he doesn't like the way something looks or is implemented unless I say it first, in which case he will agree with me (if it's true). In another case, a few months ago, I was asked to complete a somewhat large task; I submitted my work and never got any feedback. Looking back it wasn't completed as the company wanted, but it would have been nice to be told "Thanks, but please do it differently / we needed something else."

My boss is a generally nice person and I'm not oversensitive - I try to get feedback as often as possible (which he doesn't give too much of anyway). What is a professional way to ask my boss to tell me when something isn't done well, instead of being silent and/or giving the work to someone else?

Edit: to clarify, I'm somewhat of a beginner to the type of software engineering going on said company, and there are sometimes tasks that I legitimately can't finish in the time allotted. I'm fine with having someone else complete the task - I just want my boss to acknowledge it, and let me know what I should know/learn for next time.

  • Are you sure your boss has the time to do this or maybe he just doesn't like to criticize or feel this would be confrontational. Have you ever stated, "I want honest feedback even if it's negative. I'm trying to improve." or say anything else to determine why he is so reluctant? – user8365 Feb 28 '17 at 16:28
  • Have you asked him "can you give me negative feedback?" or "what things can I do better / improve in?"? – Edwin Lambregts Mar 1 '17 at 13:52
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You want a critique

In the design world, what you are asking for is called a critique. It's a process that is typically repeated several times throughout the development of a design. You can invite critique without explicitly calling it out by involving your boss, or an experienced colleague, earlier in the coding process.

When to ask for a critique

It's much easier to give a critique when the other person has not yet put a lot of work into the work, but the direction is made clear. In a design, this would be the stage of sketches and wireframes. In software development, you might have pseudocode or some experimental code. Show it to your boss before you've written 20,000 lines of code and he will be able to tell, at a glance, what you're doing and if you're on the right track.

Iteration

After you've gotten your course aligned, do some more work, and then come back. "Hey boss, I've implemented what we discussed, am I on the right track?" Now your boss is more familiar with your thought process, and knows where problematic areas might reside. He will look there and ignore everything else, because looking through the entire program is a slog.

Stakeholder validation

You may also want to consider talking to users of your product, or stakeholders responsible for the final result. You say that one of your projects wasn't completed like the company wanted. Who had the knowledge of what the company wanted? Did you ever show them what you were working on? Do this early, do this often, and you will be confident that you made the right thing.

  • Great insight into what is being asked for. Critique on your work is certainly a more accurate way of representing what you need than calling it negative feedback. It's also a bit less challenging for your boss to take on board doing this than asking him to give you negative feedback. – kiltannen Feb 28 '17 at 3:23
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    I think it might also be worth telling the boss directly that you want to develop the skill to tell on your own whether your code is good and that you need his help in the form of feedback to get there. Just being the boss doesn't mean he isn't afraid of confrontation or worried that it's mean to tell you that you got something wrong. – Mel Reams Feb 28 '17 at 5:50
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What is a professional way to ask my boss to tell me when something isn't done well, instead of being silent and/or giving the work to someone else?

It is to your credit that you want real feedback, including both the positive and negative. I believe this is a terrific way to grow.

Hopefully, you have one-on-one meetings periodically (weekly?) with your boss. If not, you should ask for them. Those meetings are a great setting to try and get more feedback.

Start by asking your boss for specific feedback on a particular project. Something like "What could I have done better here?" might get you there. If that goes well and you can pull out what you need, you can try to get your boss to make it more automatic. Something like "You know, I really appreciate it when you tell me that something wasn't done well. That can really help me to do my job better."

Not all bosses are comfortable giving "bad news", even though I believe that is a critical part of a manager's role. Knowing this, you can convey that from your point of view it will be "safe" for you to receive that kind of feedback and that you won't be offended.

I suspect after a few discussions with your boss he/she will really like the fact that you want this kind of feedback and that could help grow your relationship.

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    +1 for suggesting that you ask something like "What could I have done better here?" That lets people know that you welcome criticism; you're not just looking for approval. – mhwombat Feb 28 '17 at 20:24

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